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'At last the government has a vision for edtech'

The UK is home to some of the world’s best edtech companies – ministers are finally catching up, says Caroline Wright

A new report has called for an increased use of education technology

The UK is home to some of the world’s best edtech companies – ministers are finally catching up, says Caroline Wright

As director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), which represents hundreds of the UK’s leading edtech companies, I have always been struck by just how well respected the UK’s edtech offering is across the globe. Be it China or Brazil, there is a voracious, growing appetite for the edtech successes of UK schools and industry.

For example, Frog Education, based in Halifax, provides the learning platform technology for every state school in Malaysia. GL Assessment is doing ground-breaking work with the Chinese Ministry of Education, adapting their assessment platform for use in classrooms across the country. Tes’ resources platform, of course, is used by a network of many millions of teachers from every corner of the world. And the biggest edtech show in the world, the Bett Show, takes place here in London every year with over 10,000 overseas visitors. There are endless examples of how UK edtech companies are having a transformative impact upon classrooms worldwide.

So I’ve found it strange that the Department for Education has in recent times appeared to be reticent about the use of edtech in classrooms in our own country. How ironic that teachers in some Asian countries are more likely to be encouraged to use UK edtech by their governments than UK teachers are by our own Department for Education.

But it looks like this is finally set to change. And after eight long years with next-to-no government guidance on the use of edtech in education, I am pleased that 2018 looks set to be the “lucky 8” year for schools, thanks to today’s announcement of an “overarching vision” for education technology by education secretary Damian Hinds.

All too often recently we have seen an over-simplistic, knee-jerk backlash against the use of technology in schools. These anti-tech adversaries cite mistakes made in the early Noughties when shiny new pieces of tech were introduced into classrooms without effective training or support for teachers.

And yes, lessons have been learned from early tech implementation failures, and the industry has worked hard to demonstrate this. Look no further, for example, than UCL’s EDUCATE programme, headed by Professor Rose Luckin, which is working with 250 UK edtech companies to put academic-quality research at the heart of their offering. They are ensuring that even companies at their earliest stages work with academics and schools alike to demonstrate the impact of the products they are developing upon educational outcomes.

Edtech 'frees up teacher time'

These companies are a world away from the straw men that anti-tech luddites like to bash when discussing education technology – just look at the game-changing potential of the artificial intelligence Century Tech is developing, for example, or the innovative assessment offering of the like of Learning Ladders. We mustn’t fail to recognise the power that technology has to inspire young minds and free up teacher time to focus on the delivery of high-quality teaching and learning practice.

One of the biggest mistakes of the early 2000s, though, was to think investment in edtech was a panacea: if you invested in an edtech initiative, say a tablet for every pupil, then standards would go up overnight. Ensuring ongoing training and support – and, crucially, time to undertake this – is absolutely vital to successful implementation. Indeed, BESA’s latest annual research of the use of ICT in UK schools, undertaken by the National Education Research Panel, found that 68 per cent of secondary schools and 56 per cent of primary schools cited training in edtech resources as being their key challenge over the next 12 months.

I am, therefore, delighted that the DfE’s plans place teacher training and support at the heart and soul of its future approach to edtech. Over the next academic year, BESA will be working with the DfE to run a series of roadshows across the country to provide CPD and ensure that schools get demonstrations of the best edtech out there. We will also be launching an online platform in partnership with the DfE to allow schools to “try before they buy” and take out free trials of edtech products before making an investment – to make sure that it is right for them.

As Mr Hinds says, technology can be used in the classroom in “revolutionary ways” – allowing students to explore a rainforest from their classroom, or to programme a robot. There are many examples of ministries of education across the world evangelising about the revolutionary potential of education technology, often that supplied by UK companies. It’s very welcome that our own Department for Education is now setting out a vision for edtech that, if realised, could have a ground-breaking impact upon its implementation worldwide.

Caroline Wright is director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association


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